Once a force to reckon with, the Left parties and their trade union arms appear to be in the throes of an existential crisis in Maharashtra, especially in Mumbai which had even served as the base of the undivided Communist Party of India in its initial decades.
Once a force to reckon with, the Left parties and their trade union arms appear to be in the throes of an existential crisis in Maharashtra, especially in Mumbai which had even served as the base of the undivided Communist Party of India in its initial decades. For a state that produced top Communist leaders like S A Dange, B T Ranadive and Govind Pansare and was witness to many labour struggles, the Left is a marginalised presence now in Maharashtra. The cultural space of the Left, which in the past enjoyed the backing of writers, intellectuals, film personalities and fellow-travellers like Balraj Sahni, Kaifee Azmi and A K Hangal, has also shrunk considerably. Party insiders as well as political analysts say internal dissensions over theoretical and tactical lines and organisational weaknesses like factionalism are largely to blame for the decline of the Left, along with other factors like politics of polarisation practised by its rivals. But leaders of the mainstream communist parties — the CPI(M) and the CPI — are still hopeful of rebuilding the movement, saying they are making best efforts to regain the lost space by organising struggles for people hit by the policies of the government at the Centre and the state, and seeking to foster the working class unity.
CPI leaders, for instance, cite the recent merger of splinter group Lal Nishan Party (LNP) with it as a move in this direction. The Left-watchers hold that internal dissensions and theoretical schisms in the communist movement since the 1960s had greatly come in the way of its growth in the country in general and cities like Mumbai in particular. “The communist movement in India has become very weak due to multiple splits. Even the CPI and the CPI(M) are now fighting for their survival,” noted political observer Sudheendra Kulkarni told PTI. “Notably, the CPI and the RSS were formed in the same year, in 1925. The influence of the former has shrunk enormously whereas the latter’s political clout has become incomparably larger and stronger, as visible from the BJP’s spectacular rise in recent decades,” he said. Kulkarni said there is a clear possibility of the CPI(M) and CPI merging in coming years, which will be good for the movement and Indian democracy. “One can safely predict that the CPI and CPI(M) will merge sooner or later. The journey from disintegration to re-integration will certainly be good for the communist movement and also for India’s democracy itself,” he said.
According to Prakash Reddy, secretary of the Maharashtra CPI, the nexus between big-time realtors and self-serving political class worked against the Left and its trade union base in Mumbai. “Two factors went against us. The commercialisation of the city, driven by the builders’ lobby that worked with the political bosses, proved adverse for us. It took away the working class people (from the Left) and reorganised the trade unions in an entirely different shape,” Reddy told PTI. “Secondly, the 1992 riots led to the displacement and polarisation of the city’s composition that seriously affected our party’s prospects,” said Reddy. The history of the communist movement in the then Bombay province goes back to the Independence movement when a large number of activists, textile workers and peasants joined hands for struggles against the British imperialism. The party and its mass organisations later led agitations against the Indian Government after the country became independent.
Despite its electoral fortune declining in legislative and civic bodies, the CPI still boasts of some cadre base in the city and claims to be active in different pockets through its 15 offices and over 50 branches. “We take up and rake up issues pertaining to the common man. People of the city as well as the country are very much upset with policies of the BJP government. Therefore, our offices and branches daily get flooded with issues related to civic governance, local disputes, family problems, rehabilitation, etc, and our workers still fight over them,” Reddy said. In pre-Independence days, the party had not only fought against the Britishers and organised struggles for workers’ privileges like bonus and other allowances but also supported the Naval revolt of 1946.
In the post-Independence period, it had rallied behind the demand for Samyukt Maharashtra (united Maharashtra), Reddy said. “We still carry out our annual enrolment and renewal of membership. We do not believe in foolish idea of making someone a member only by giving a missed call. We still have our significant presence at the local, district, state and national levels,” Reddy said when asked how his party is planning to revive and regain its lost ground. He also said the party has realised that social media is a vital tool to reach out to people.